July 7, 2003 – The Save Long Bay Coalition asked the Board of Land Use Appeals on Monday to review actions taken in approving the 90-year lease of submerged land and filled land adjacent to the derelict Yacht Haven Hotel property as part of redevelopment plans.
The coalition, which was formed in 1986 to try to stop dredging and filling in the Charlotte Amalie harbor, is not challenging the hotel and marina revitalization, according to Helen Gjessing, coalition president.
"What we want to emphasize is that we are not challenging the hotel and marina restoration projects," she said, "only the filled land development, and the fact that the filled land permit should have gone to the governor for approval and then to the Legislature for ratification."
Andrew Farkas, chief executive officer of Insignia Nautica, parent company of IN-USVI LLC, the project developer, warned last month that "any delay at this point could jeopardize the Yacht Haven redevelopment project in its entirety, and the property could remain vacant indefinitely." (See "No appeal yet filed on Yacht Haven permits".)
In May, a Senate Planning and Environmental Protection Committee hearing on permits for the project was adjourned when legislative legal counsel Yvonne Tharpes said the lease to IN-USVI was not legal. Four days later, however, at a special session of the full Legislature called by Gov. Charles W. Turnbull, the lease was approved with only Sen. Ronald Russell voting in opposition.
Gjessing said on Monday that the problem as the coalition sees it stems from one permit being issued for both the privately held land and the public trust land.
"Naturally, the privately owned portion doesn't have to be approved," Gjessing said. But the development of trust land is subject to "substantially increased requirements," the appeal reads.
Tharpes and the coalition agree that according to the V.I. Code, submerged land and filled land are both considered public trust land held in trust for the people of the Virgin Islands.
The coalition is asking the Board of Land Use Appeals to separate the filled land from the permit and allow the hotel and marina redevelopment to proceed while another application is filed for the filled land. The process would require a new Coastal Zone Management number and public hearings on the application.
If the new application is approved, the coalition has asked that the permit be issued for no more than 20 years.
Concern over the unusually long term of the lease to IN-USVI for filled and submerged land was expressed at May's Senate session. However, senators were pressured to make a quick decision — because Insignia Financial Group was on the cusp of a merger with a huge real estate development firm, CB Richard Ellis, and because everyone agreed they were sick of looking at the derelict property, destroyed by Hurricane Marilyn in 1995, fronting one of the world's most beautiful harbors. It was also unanimously agreed that the territory desperately needs capital projects to spur the lagging economy.
But the coalition insists, as did Tharpes, that the lease is "patently illegal."
Gjessing said she doesn't known when the board will hear the appeal, but "I hope it is soon."
No one wants to see the Yacht Haven development languish any longer than it has, she said.
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